Sky Full of Moon (1952) DVD Review: And a Script Full of Maroons

Throughout the annals of romantic history, ladies and gentlemen – whether it be pressed onto paper, matted into music, or solidified on celluloid – there has never been anything quite like the moonlight to bring out the lustful lycanthropes within us. Even that one time when Bugs Bunny was in drag on the moon commenting that there was “a beautiful Earth out tonight”, you can’t help but suspect it was the very lunar surface itself that was responsible. And yet, were someone to say to me “Look at that sky full of moon,” I think all romantic notions would come crashing to the ground like a malevolent chunk of meteorite right then and there. In fact, I think anyone who said “Sky full of moon” would immediately fall under that special kind of stupid Bugs Bunny so aptly dubbed as “a maroon”.

So, when the lanky ranch hand/cowboy Harley Williams aka Tumbleweed, whom we have the misfortune of having as the protagonist of the 1952 MGM B-Comedy Sky Full of Moon, includes the titular phrase in a nighttime rendezvous with a struggling change girl without so much as a sliver of romantic resonance whatsoever, you instantly want to call him a maroon. And he really truly is just that.

Following a lengthy introduction set to one of the worst-written cowboy songs ever devised (as performed – seemingly in one, thorny take – by Sheb “Wilhelm Scream” Wooley and Jonathan Colt), the recently-turned-21 Tumbleweed (as played by Carleton Carpenter, a multifaceted entertainer who was brave enough to have come out of the closet after World War II, despite the fact it could have ruined his career completely – which is probably the reason he was placed in this stinker) heads to that big magical black-and-white town of Las Vegas for a few days with high hopes of making a splash at the Helldorado Rodeo.

But the few bucks he’s brought along simply isn’t enough to enter every competition, so he starts-a-lookin’ to make some extra money. Chance (or a combination of poor writing and a limited amount of sets) leads him to a tiny slot machine establishment somewhere on a Hollywood backlot, where he meets an extremely somber proprietor (Keenan Wynn, who phones it in like no one else could ever do here) and the struggling change girl in question, Dixie (Jan Sterling, whom I liked much more in Caged, but who does the best with what little she has to work with here).

Now, while I realize the pairing of a socially-awkward cowboy and a dumb broke blonde montaging their way through Vegas casinos is what true cinema is all about, Sky Full of Moon perhaps takes it a bit too far. But then, with a story like this, they probably needed all the padding they could film. So, we witness with unfledged delight as Tumbleweed wins one pile of silver coins after another, knowing full well that this does not bode well. And, sure enough, the maroon loses all that he won (which he promised his newfound strange love half of, just to help her get back home), eventually sinking low enough to consent to shooting for Dixie’s dumb plan to rob a slot machine of its contents with a primitive hand drill.

It is here that writer/director Norman Foster (who produced better work, including that of his son, actor Robert Foster) tries to turn his bizarre attempt at a romantic comedy (which could have very well inspired the play that later became Bus Stop for all we know) into film noir, which of course, fails. Later in the film, Foster switches gears yet again, placing his unlikely, unlikable lead characters out in the middle of the desert for a road trip – wherein our barely 21-years-old clueless clot of a hero and his poor excuse for a fiery femme fatale (the previously-seen serious tone of the film has all-but-vanished by this point) talk about life and love, and somehow get an old rust bucket of a jalopy with a leaky radiator through the hot sand, across a condemned bridge and down the mountainside when the vehicle’s brakes give out.

While I’m not one to mind a silly turn of events in a romantic comedy, the fact that Sky Full of Moon is both unfunny and unromantic simply makes the whole thing rather depressing. And the ending is even more of a letdown, especially when the introductory ballad (which, incidentally, is entitled “A Cowboy Had Ought to Be Single”) returns for an encore.

But of course, Sky Full of Moon is not without its interesting bits and pieces. In addition to being as genuinely dumb as its name implies, the movie gives us a great look at Vegas in the early ’50s, and I’m glad the Warner Archive Collection has released this seldom-seen turkey (which bombed big-time at the box office for some strange reason) to DVD just for this footage alone. Warner Archive’s release presents Sky Full of Moon in a surprisingly above-average transfer (well, I don’t suppose it’s too surprising: nobody’s ever seen the film, after all!) with the original confused-as-to-what-it’s-marketing theatrical trailer accompanying as the disc’s only special feature.

Other points of interest here are seeing character actor Robert Burton in a rare prominently billed role as the only other patron in Keenan Wynn’s establishment, and who also phones it in for this quick and easy paycheck; a brief glimpse of the beauty forgotten starlet Elaine Stewart could have graced the screen with more had things turned out differently); a handful of familiar faces from real cowboy and noir pictures (Emmett Lynn, Hank Worden, Syd Saylor, et al); and the rare casting of onscreen career villain Douglass Dumbrille as a really nice guy for once!

Despite being a really bad film, fans of obscure B noir, cowboy pictures, weird possible forerunners of Bus Stop, an openly gay actor in the ’50s, and/or the numerous character actor greats housed within are definitely encouraged to check this one out just the same.

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Luigi Bastardo

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